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Report an Invasive Species

Russian Thistle

Russian Thistle

Russian Thistle

(Salsola kali)

Priority: -  Prevent

Tags: Terrestrial

Identification and Reproduction


  • Russian thistle is an annual shurb that can grow up to 1.5 m tall. 
  • In its immature stages it grows erect and branched. Over time it will grow rounded and stems will start to tangle. At maturity shrub can reach over one meter in diameter. 

  • Depending on genetics and site conditions stems and leaves may be green, red or even striped. 
  • Leaves bear sharp spines. Young leaves are succulent and will mature to become leathery and rigid. 


  • Flowers form on the axil of the mature leaf, are pink, white or green and do not have petals.



  • Russian thistle reproduces by seed. 
  • Each plant can produce from 100 to 200,000 seeds in a growing season. 
  • As the plant matures it dries out and becomes brittle. Stems break easily in the wind and form tumbleweeds that help disperse seeds. 

Habitat & Ecology

  • Prefers sandy textured soils. 
  • High tolerance for salinity. 
  • Commonly found along beach edges, grasslands and desert communities. 
  • But is well adapted to a large variety of habitats. Can also be found on agricultural land, rangeland, abandoned fields, roadsides and coastal areas. 



  • Although grazed when young, this plant becomes too spiny and woody for grazing livestock. 


  • As the seeds begin to mature the plant starts to die off, becoming hard and brittle. This poses as a fire hazard since stems are dry and woody. 
  • Outcompetes native species. 
  • Obstruct and limits access to stream channels. 


Prevention is a high priority for this species. 

  • Plant and maintain healthy ground cover to prevent the establishment of Russian thistle. 

Mechanical/Manual Control: 

  • Young plants can be pulled and roots can be dug up. 
  • Hoe plants just below the ground level prior to seed set. 
  • Stems can be carefully cut prior to flower maturity. 
  • Repetitive mowing can help control Russian thistle, but note in some cases this may cause the plant to take low growth patterns. 
  • Be sure to wear thick gloves when physically removing the plant.

Chemical Control:

  • Glyphosate has the greatest success with Russian thistle. 
  • Ensure you are applying before seed set.
  • When the plant has become leathery and woody it may be diffucult to control infestations with herbicides. 
  • Be sure to read all herbicide labels prior to application. 


For more details check out the Invasive Species Compendium datasheet on Salsola kali (common saltwort). 

Header photo (Nanosanchez).